Equal access to equal rights? Tackling street-level discrimination against mobile EU citizens across four national administrative contexts







Freedom of movement is a prime ambition of European integration, allowing citizens to freely live, study, and work in other states, even beyond the borders of the European Union (EU), e.g. in Switzerland. It is also subject to political controversy, as shown by the Swiss limitation initiative, or Brexit. Particularly access to social benefits for mobile EU citizens in host countries has sparked political conflict. This project analyses bureaucratic discrimination - the biased treatment of different EU citizens by frontline bureaucrats - within this context. We ask three questions: Is bureaucratic discrimination against different types of mobile EU citizens, who try to access social benefits, mainly a reflection of societal discrimination (RQ1), or do national administrative contexts influence patterns of bureaucratic discrimination (RQ2)? And how can bureaucratic discrimination within different contexts be overcome (RQ3)?Administrative behaviour plays an important - but understudied - role for freedom of movement. First, member states may introduce administrative burdens that limit non-nationals’ access to social benefits to resolve the tension between commitments regarding EU citizenship and domestic political conflict over alleged ‘welfare tourism’. Second, the legal conditions under which mobile EU citizens have access to social benefits abroad are so complex that support in navigating foreign administrative systems is almost indispensable for exercising their social rights. Bureaucratic discrimination thus becomes particularly consequential. Behavioural public administration research has highlighted the attributes that can trigger bureaucratic discrimination based on micro-level cognitive mechanisms. Unfortunately, the role of national administrative contexts is poorly understood; both in affecting bureaucratic discrimination and in influencing the effectiveness of anti-discrimination measures. One main reason for this is that cross-national experiments - prominent within economics - have not yet fertilized public administration research. Our project innovates by unravelling the national scope conditions of bureaucratic discrimination through cross-national experiments that are complemented with qualitative evidence.


Funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, Grant Number 207667

Approved amount: Swiss NSF 328’870 CHF, plus co-funding German DFG 369’556 CHF

Lead Investigator: Anita Manatschal

Duration: 01.02.2023 – 31.01.2026



Anita Manatschal, Swiss Forum for Migration and Population Studies SFM Université de Neuchâtel, Switzerland
Christian Adam, Chair of Comparative Politics with a focus on European Institutions, Zeppelin University, Germany
Eva Thomann, Department of Political and Administrative Sciences, University of Konstanz, Germany


Valon Hasanaj, Swiss Forum for Migration and Population Studies SFM, Université de Neuchâtel
Orlane Jadeau, Swiss Forum for Migration and Population Studies SFM, Université de Neuchâtel
Jana Gómez Díaz, Department of Political and Administrative Sciences, University of Konstanz, Germany

Project partners

Oliver James, Department of Politics College of Social Sciences and IS University of Exeter, Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Carolin Rapp, Department of Political Science University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Xavier Fernández i Marín, “Ramón y Cajal” fellow at the Universitat de Barcelona